Extraordinary Rendition in the Horn of Africa

I have a story up on the Newsweek website about extraordinary rendition (that’s state-sponsored kidnap to you and me). More than 90 men, women and children were arrested in Kenya in early 2007 before being blindfolded, shackled and bundled onto a plane in the dead of night. They were first taken to Somalia before ending up in jail in Ethiopia. Many were tortured by Ethiopian guards before being interrogated by US intelligence officials. According to Human Rights Watch (and to anyone with a conscience) this makes the US complicit in torture.

But the story has taken a while to get published, mainly because we’ve been waiting for a response from the US government. It’s a strong piece (even if I say so myself), based on the testimonies of several of those who were “rendered”. It’s backed up by numerous sources here in Nairobi and in Ethiopia. But the longer it took the US government to give a formal response the more I started to worry. Maybe these guys had embellished their tales a little. Maybe my sources were just guessing at what might have happened in Addis Ababa’s jails.

Then the response came through.

“The Agency did not, to my knowledge, ever have custody of these individuals. Nor, to state the obvious, would it be complicit in torture. The CIA goes where it must to gather intelligence… but it does so in strict accordance with American law.”

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano

Bingo. The non-denial denial.

Mr Gimigliano is quite right. The CIA did not “ever have custody of these individuals”. But that’s not what we claimed. We were quite clear that it was Ethiopia which had custody of the men. The CIA were simply the ones asking the questions. Mr Gimigliano doesn’t even bother to deny that. “The CIA goes where it must to gather intelligence,” he said. I’ll take that as a yes then.

The US will have a new president in two months – someone who has made it clear he wants to close Guantanamo and end the use of torture (whether it’s by American hands of those of its allies). Obama’s probable choice of Attorney General suggests that he is not going to change his mind once in office. Eric Holder gave a speech earlier last year which laid out some of his thinking. Glenn Greenwald summarises it here:

…he condemned Guantanamo as an “international embarrassment”; charged that “for the last 6 years the position of leader of the Free World has been largely vacant”; complained that “we authorized torture and we let fear take precedence over the rule of law“; and called for an absolute end both to rendition and warrantless eavesdropping.  He proclaimed that “the next president must move immediately to reclaim America’s standing in the world as a nation that cherishes and protects individual freedom and basic human rights.”

George W Bush’s administration has been complicit in some pretty shocking human rights abuses in the Horn of Africa – all of them guided by the ‘war on terror’. Obama’s desire to change US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan have got a lot of coverage. Many here hope he’ll be as willing to change tack in the Horn of Africa too.



One response to “Extraordinary Rendition in the Horn of Africa

  1. Good piece. By the way, the CIA’s claim that it did not have custody of these men (and women and children) conveniently lets U.S. authorities off the hook in the case of Amir Meshal, an American who was among those arrested in Kenya. As we reported at the time, U.S. intelligence agents interrogated Meshal when he was in Kenyan custody, decided not to charge him with any crimes — and then allowed him to be rendered to Ethiopia with the others.

    Rather than taking custody of its citizen, as the UK and other nations did (eventually), the US let Meshal languish in jails in Kenya, Somalia (!) and Ethiopia in a remarkable case of either negligence or gross criminality.

    As HRW told us at the time, “Anyone who tells you that the United States doesn’t have the clout to convince the Kenyans to return an American citizen is either misinformed or lying.” (Self-promotion alert: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/staff/shashank_bengali/story/15762.html)

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